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Jun 24, 2014 2:46 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Some East End Schools Weigh Eliminating Valedictorian And Salutatorian Honors

Jun 25, 2014 10:53 AM

High school students this weekend will be lining up in caps and gowns as they reach the pinnacle of their high school careers, graduation.

While the milestone is steeped in tradition, some school districts are moving away from naming a valedictorian and salutatorian, in favor of honoring as many students as possible at the commencement ceremony.

This year, for the first time, Southampton High School students will not hear graduation speeches from the two highest-ranked students, but instead from two class-elected speakers—a change that was two years in the making.

Dr. Nicholas Dyno, Southampton’s assistant superintendent for instruction, said the district decided to switch from a traditional ranking system because competition for the top honors was too intense. After consulting with other local high schools and colleges, the district decided to adopt the college system of sorting students into summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude distinctions—with highest honors, with high honors and with honors.

“The board decided that the competition for valedictorian and salutatorian was not what we wanted it to be,” Dr. Dyno said, “so we looked at high-performing schools up-island and in different states, and we talked to different colleges, who recommended that the wave of the future is to do away with the ranking system for students in that order.”

Adopted two years ago, this is the first time the new policy is actually having an impact in the district. Two students, Kasandra Taraku and Benjamin Hoertnagl-Pereira, were selected to speak at graduation based on an anonymous essay competition. Graduating seniors are divided based on their grade point average into the three honors categories, which means that they now can graduate with honors even if they haven’t taken Advanced Placement or honors classes, making it possible to recognize more students for their successes. “As long as students were trying their hardest, they could earn that designation,” Dr. Dyno said.

In the past, valedictorians and salutatorians were chosen based on grade point average, but the scores were weighted based on the number of Advanced Placement and honors classes a student took. A few students competed for the titles—sometimes fiercely—and the decisions often came down to fractions of a point in grade point average, with the numbers being affected by the types of classes taken by each student; a straight-A student could still finish behind another student with similar grades who had completed more advanced classes.

While several schools across Long Island and New York have started moving away from the ranking system, some districts, like Westhampton Beach, have opted to carry on the tradition. This week, Superintendent Michael Radday said the top honor is given based on the weighted grade point average at the conclusion of the third quarter of senior year. He also noted that the district has not had any serious discussion of moving away from the designations in the future.

At East Hampton High School, Principal Adam Fine said the school has changed its ranking system recently, but that a valedictorian and salutatorian are still named each year. However, he said, that might soon change: He expects there will be discussions with the community and the Board of Education next year about eliminating the process altogether.

The principal said he likes the idea of not ranking students, explaining that doing so does not help them get into college, and that the competition can be heated. However, he said he does understand the pride that goes along with being at the top of a class, and said he wants to hear both sides of the argument next year.

“It has been something we have discussed freely but never formally started a real process,” he said. “We are going to divide [into an exploratory committee] and assess, and then create a policy and bring it to the board for discussion.

“I am interested to hear what people have to say, I think a lot of parents have different opinions,” he added.

In East Hampton’s current system, instead of having a typical “weighted GPA,” students are given bonus points for harder coursework—0.50 for AP classes and 0.25 for honors classes. Each January, the district calculates seniors’ GPAs and notifies the top two students of the honor. Those are the only two students who are told their precise ranks—others find out only if they are in the top 10 percent or top 20 percent of the graduating class.

A similar system at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor caused unhappiness this year. One mother, Kristen Davey, said that while she is not opposed to having a valedictorian and salutatorian, she wishes the district would have a defined policy outlined in the school code detailing how the top two are selected.

Currently, the district selects the valedictorian and salutatorian in January—before the final half of the school year. At the time, Ms. Davey said, her daughter, Emmeline Luck, was ranked third in her class, but now, at the end of the final semester, she ranks second in the graduating class. Nevertheless, she has not been named salutatorian, and after several attempts to have her daughter recognized at the graduation ceremony alongside the salutatorian, Ms. Davey said she is disappointed in the district.

“My daughter is upset,” she said. “She feels she has worked really hard for four years and has worked hard to maintain her GPA, and is disappointed in the administration.”

Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols said he could not speak about a specific student, but that the district’s policy is to calculate GPAs down to one-ten-thousandth of a point in January in order to determine rank.

“There certainly has been discussion from a couple of parents about the issue of ranking,” Mr. Nichols said. “And I am cognizant that Southampton and other districts on Long Island have moved away from the practice and don’t rank. But that is something the Board of Education would have to decide, that they would like to review and start an evaluation process for. That is really for the community to decide.

“At different times there have been people who raise the issue, and I can think of a couple of parents over the years who have requested we consider it. But I am not aware of anything like that happening now.”

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Heaven forbid that scholarly excellence and perseverance be recognized and rewarded, to be replaced by a popularity contest.

By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jun 30, 14 10:20 AM
I guesss they (schools) are not putting much into the results of state testing either. If they fall below what they have done in the past, or below state average, it's ok. So then, why have grades- testing? This is so wrong. Part of working towards these awards will prepair them for the "big bad world" Get a life! Empoyers may not look at grades, but they sure know that if you are a Valedictorian or Salutatorian that you are a hard worker, well rounded, and would be a good worker.
By sueg (10), Bridgehampton on Jun 30, 14 12:03 PM
2 members liked this comment
If many of the East End districts are bending to parent pressure because their children aren't reaching their expectations, perhaps all competitive sports and activities should be replaced by club activities. Newsday's graduation issue for Nassau and Suffolk featured all of the Valedictorians and Salutatorians and the great colleges that they are attending in the fall. Southampton appeared to be the only school in Suffolk County who did not recognize their Valedictorian and Salutatorian. As an ...more
By hamptonite (26), hamptons on Jun 30, 14 7:23 PM
2 members liked this comment
the kids that worked very hard for all of his or her high school years DESERVE the titles of Val and /orSal. inportant for college applications etc and also scholarships that come with the hard work. any school districts that do not let these students that work so hard not get his or her "given" recognition should be ashamed. whay is any student working hard for in the long run if my school district follows suit I will vote NO on any and every porposition it puts up!!
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Jun 30, 14 7:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
Liberals hate competition. Everyone gets a trophy according to Democrats. And you wonder our once great country continues to decline on the world stage.
By BillWillConn3 (180), Scarsdale on Jun 30, 14 8:41 PM
"...the district decided to adopt the COLLEGE system of sorting students into summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude distinctions—with highest honors, with high honors and with honors."
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 30, 14 11:38 PM
By kpjc (161), east quogue on Jun 30, 14 9:34 PM
No more grades. Just take the course and move on to the next grade. No one should know if you're doing well in the class or doing poorly. Those doing poorly may be thought of as having less intelligence than a classmate and that's not nice. I don't think we should keep score in high school sports either. That way no one can be deemed the (GASP!) loser. Just play for the fun of it so everyone's a "winner" YAY!!!

What a joke!
By itsamazing (224), Southampton on Jun 30, 14 10:41 PM
1 member liked this comment
If the competition to obtain such high honor has become injurious to the students, then this very well may be a wise and prudent decision. If something in your life causes harm, do you allow it to continue?
Jun 30, 14 11:22 PM appended by Mr. Z
Sometimes being first at any cost can be prohibitively expensive. Do you really "earn" an honor by taking classes just for their weight?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 30, 14 11:22 PM
This will only solve the problem if the course work is all the same for everyone and that one student cannot take a course outside of school that would apply to their grade without others being made aware of that option. One extra credit course outside of school can kite the gpa above the students who are unaware that option was available, thus boosting them ahead of everyone else. How has this problem been solved otherwise its the same thing just under a different name.
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Jul 1, 14 6:09 AM
I'm sure Karl Marx would agree with you Mr Z! After all , this system would be for the greater good. IMHO failing to recognize the brightest and most hard working students is another step towards the puzzification of our great nation.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jul 1, 14 6:15 AM
1 member liked this comment
Until you can define the difference between socialism, and communism I wouldn't post such tripe.

The last thing you have EVER done is back up your accusations and unfounded poppycock with hard empirical evidence and lucid retort.

What part of they are being treated like COLLEGE students escapes your mental comprehension?
Jul 1, 14 8:56 AM appended by Mr. Z
And, you do realize McCarthy died a broken man, in an alcohol induced haze...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 1, 14 8:56 AM
These students work so hard and for so long to achieve these honorary titles, and they deserve to receive the recognition and validation. To do away with this tradition is ridiculous to me.
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Jul 1, 14 7:16 AM
1 member liked this comment
We are not all equal and that is what makes us unique. Why not honor people for there gifts and hard work.When we are all equal we will be called communist.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 1, 14 8:03 AM
1 member liked this comment
When "We" are forced to wear the "People's shirt", that is communism.

When "We" are all made to drive the "People's car", that is communism.

When "We" are all made to purchase the "People's groceries" from the State, that is communism.

Figure out the trend yet?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 1, 14 8:59 AM
Performance, talent and hard work are typically rewarded, though not always and not always fairly. It would seem to me that we should teach kids how to cope with the circumstances surrounding competition instead of removing the chance to experience these feelings while they are still in a safe environment.
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Jul 1, 14 1:33 PM
What do kids actually have to work towards these days? They are all treated as equals- so if I achieve a 65 I'm considered the same as my peer who earned a 100? Sounds unfair- kids need competition & reasons to excel- such as the honor & award of valedictorian
By beachbme11978 (78), Westhampton Beach on Jul 1, 14 1:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
While I'm not opposed to the college system of "cum laude" I find this part of the article amusing:

"in favor of honoring as many students as possible at the commencement ceremony."

ALL students are honored. It's called a diploma.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 1, 14 2:19 PM
Finally I agree with Nature. Parents and kids that like this new equal philosophy are in for a rude awakening in the real world
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 1, 14 6:23 PM
Even a broken clock is right twice a day my friend
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 2, 14 8:32 PM
2 members liked this comment
Agreed Nature and Chief and beachbme, 100% in agreement. Reward excxeptionalism, it's what makes this country great!!!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jul 1, 14 6:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
And here we have the alarmists, and those who read their own anger issues and frustrations with life into an issue. Being labeled "summa cum laude" is the highest honor a COLLEGE student will receive as an ADULT. It will take you places for sure.

These young men and women are now being treated like COLLEGE students. Like ADULTS. They are not equal, nor is someone who earns a 65 placed in the same category as someone who scores a perfect 100, or better with weight.

They are ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 2, 14 12:09 AM
Z - I think the trend of dumbing down is what makes people cringe. There has been a tendency lately to try to "not offend" and "give everyone a trophy". If the schools true intent is to gravitate towards college type recognition then great, but I am skeptical of the true motivation.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jul 4, 14 10:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
The "dumbing down" has been going on for a loooong time now. Just get out on the net and read comments on Disqus or forum of your choice for sufficient proof. I realize not everyone owns a copy of Warriner's but I will say this:

The desiccation of a living language is one of the first indicators of a society's ruination.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 4, 14 10:51 PM
That's the problem Z, parents aren't realizing when kids graduate high school they are adults. They are officially in the real world. No more trophies for everyone. The only trophy they will be fighting for is a paycheck. For you to say ab 18 year old is not an adult makes little sense.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 2, 14 8:09 AM
"For you to say ab 18 year old is not an adult makes little sense."

That statement makes no sense. Who said they're not adults?

Just because one got the highest GPA, doesn't mean they're the best person for the job or they're better than the persons in the top 10. Welcome to the real world where experience and getting grease under your fingernails often trumps someone who has grades to their credit. Having the highest GPA doesn't necessarily mean you worked so much harder than ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 6, 14 10:35 AM
By MACDADDY (49), SOUTHAMPTON on Jul 6, 14 12:46 PM
1 member liked this comment
No mr Z it doesn't mean the highest GPA will get the best job , and nobody has said that. The Valedictorian means that you are acknowledgedfor highest grades in your class. Why Is that a problem?
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 7, 14 7:39 AM